Some Women Use Prescription Opioids During Pregnancy

Richard Franki

July 24, 2020

Seven percent of pregnant women report using prescription opioids during their pregnancy, and almost a third of those women did not receive counseling from a provider on the effects of opioids on their unborn children, according to analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System 2019 survey show that 7% of the nearly 21,000 respondents reported using an opioid pain reliever during pregnancy, considerably lower than the fill rates of 14%-22% seen in studies of pharmacy dispensing, Jean Y. Ko, PhD, and associates at the CDC said in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In the current analysis, opioid use during pregnancy varied by age – the rate was highest, 10%, in those aged 19 years and under and dropped as age increased to 6% among those aged 35 and older – and by race/ethnicity – 9% of black women reported use, compared with 7% of Hispanics, 6% of whites, and 7% of all others, the investigators reported.

Use of prescription opioids was significantly higher for two specific groups. Women who smoked cigarettes during the last 3 months of their pregnancy had a 16% rate of opioid use, and those with depression during pregnancy had a rate of 13%, they said.

Physicians caring for pregnant women should seek to identify and address substance use and misuse, and mental health conditions such as depression, history of trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety, the CDC researchers pointed out.

The CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both recommend that caregivers and patients also need to "discuss and carefully weigh risks and benefits when considering initiation of opioid therapy for chronic pain during pregnancy," Dr. Ko and associates wrote.

That sort of counseling, however, was not always offered: 32% of the women with self-reported prescription opioid use during their pregnancy said that they had not been counseled about the drugs' effect on an infant. Some variation was seen by age or race/ethnicity, but the differences were not significant, the researchers reported.

"Opioid prescribing consistent with clinical practice guidelines can ensure that patients, particularly those who are pregnant, have access to safer, more effective chronic pain treatment and reduce the number of persons at risk for opioid misuse, opioid use disorder, and overdose," the investigators concluded.

Survey data from 32 jurisdictions (30 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) that participate in the monitoring system were included in the analysis, as were data from California and Ohio, which do not participate. All of the respondents had a live birth in the preceding 2-6 months, the researchers explained.

SOURCE: Ko JY et al. MMWR. 2020 Jul 17;69(28):897-903.

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